Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wicked Plants

I've finally gotten around to reading "Wicked Plants" by Amy Stewart; and what a terrific book! The book describes notorious members of the plant world known to allure and kill, poison and possess their victims. It's like a horror story for botanists. And believe me it is creepy! Not only are the usual suspects listed - wormwood, mandrake, deadly nightshade, but also some familiar names on the dinner table: corn, kidney, beans and elderberries all have a dark side.

A few fascinating factoids to share (but for the full story you'll have to read the book!): 
  • Coca-cola may still be flavored with the benign agents of coca (Erythrosylum coca) and kola nut (Cola spp.).
  • Betel leafs (Piper betle) come from a totally unrelated plant from the Betel nut (Areca catechu).
  • Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are not as poisonous as they are made out to be. 
  • The mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) is another member of the infamous nightshade family.
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maulatum) killed Socrates and Plato witnessed his death.
  • In 1961, An unexpected bloom of (I know its not a plant) Blue-green Algae (Cyanobacteria) poisoned anchovies that seagulls in Santa Cruz ate and caused their strange and alarming behaviour. This caught the attention of Hitchcock and gave him the final push to make his film based on the Daphne du Maurier story "The Birds."
It would make a wonderful holiday present for that special someone!  Enjoy.